Good Car-ma

There have been some fun and entertaining things happening on the Facebooks during these days of Social Distancing.  One of those that grabbed my attention recently was one where people were posting pictures of all the cars they have owned.  A refreshing diversion from the normal sea of political banter and COVID-19 scariness. 

I was born into a family of car lovers.  My dad’s dad, was a huge car buff, and though his preacher’s income didn’t give him the opportunity to own the latest and greatest vehicles, he’d still make the annual pilgrimage to the local Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury dealers to check out the newest models and come home with the new brochures.  Yes, there were other car brands, but they might just as well have been manufactured by the devil himself.   Though, he did once tell me he married my Grandma because she came with a Pontiac.  

My dad inherited this same love of vehicles, along with his siblings.  The recent Facebook trend of posting car pictures brought a smile to my face, because my dad actually had a photo album of all the cars he had owned over the years.   As a kid, our Sunday afternoons were often filled with taking drives, oftentimes those drives were down off the mountaintop to the big city of Catskill, NY to drive around the car lots, so we could browse without the pressure of a commission driven salesman.  

It’s really no surprise that my brother and I are both car fans.   Even my uncle on my mom’s side was a car nut.  We were doomed.  Starting out with our collections of Matchbox cars as kids, we both could not wait to get our first set of wheels.   The freedom of owning a car of my own, even if that car wasn’t much to look at, was a freedom worth working for.   Summer nights with the windows down, music blaring, and the twisty mountain roads are still some of my fondest memories.

Now, there’s something I have learned over the years.   Not everybody loves cars the way I do and the way my family has.  Rumor has it, that for some folks, cars are simply transportation.  As hard as that may be to believe, I have witnessed it with my very own eyes.  People buying cars based on things like practicality, fuel mileage, and even reliability.  Three variables that have never once influenced one of my car buying decisions.

Being the curious type, I decided to do some research into this phenomenon.   According to our friends over at Merriam-Webster, Transportation means an act, process, or instance of transporting…which then led me to research the word transport….and here’s where it all became very clear.  

There are two very different definitions for the word transport…

1  : to transfer or convey from one place to another
2  : to carry away with strong and often intensely pleasant emotion

It appears that my family completely skipped over definition 1 and went directly to definition number 2.   …and much to my surprise, there’s an entire population stuck on definition number 1.   Can they be saved?

You see, for me, it’s both the joy of owning a vehicle that strikes an emotional chord deep within my being, and the act of driving that vehicle down a country road or any road for that matter, that carry me away with a strong and often intensely pleasant emotion.

When I was in Kindergarten, I’d ride to school with my dad.   He was a high school English teacher in our one building K-12 school of 500 kids.   My dad drove a Plymouth Roadrunner back in those days.  A muscle car with a 383 cubic inch engine and a cartoon character on the side of it, what could be better.  It was a different time back then, and on more than one occasion, we’d experience a spirited ride home in reaction to one of my dad’s hot rod driving students referring to his pride and joy as a Road Chicken.   On those days, these particular students were schooled in far more than the subject of English.  

I’ve owned quite a few vehicles since my first car purchase.   Some of those purchases were purely emotional, an uncontrollable urge to own a particular vehicle, often influenced by the horsepower rating of the vehicle in question.   Other purchases were made for financial reasons or the necessity of affordable insurance, often a problem brought on by actions taken in a previous vehicle purchased primarily on horsepower ratings.   I can say that never once have I made a purchase based on a consumer reports article.

There are really very few things that are more enjoyable than taking a drive solely for the purpose of taking a drive.  Pulling out of the driveway, with no planned destination, no planned route other than seeking out only backroads, and letting the drive take you where it wants you to go.   Any vehicle, when used in such a manner, can provide great amounts of joy and satisfaction.   Now, I will say that having the right vehicle for the particular ride will certainly increase the grin factor.

But, let’s not forget the pure joy of vehicular ownership.   Purchasing a vehicle is no small feat.  Not only does it require a significant outlay of cash, but even the negotiation and buying process can be overwhelming for some.  For those reasons alone, you should always buy a car that makes you smile in some way…whether that be for the color, the shape, the emblem, or the powerplant hidden beneath the hood.   The best kind of car is one that causes you to turn around and take a second glance as you are walking away from it in the parking lot.

My dad bought a lot of cars.   There was always a clever dose of justification given to my mother before each purchase, but the underlying reason was always the fact that he just wanted to buy a new car. It was one of the things that gave him the most joy in life.  When my brother and I followed in his footsteps, this was one area where my dad did not have a parental leg to stand on.   What a glorious thing… youthful foolishness completely immune to parental criticism.

Well, that was until the year Two Thousand and Eleven.   

Ever since my Matchbox car days, I had a dream car. When I was 9 years old, I spent my hard earned allowance money, which was fifty cents a week, on a Porsche 911 Carrera Matchbox car, painted in what may have been the ugliest shade of metallic brown ever to leave an aerosol can.   …but despite the paint color, that’s when it happened.   From that moment on, my vehicular compass pointed directly towards Stuttgart Germany.   Even my second vehicle, a 1978 Volkswagen Scirocco with a mere 68 horsepower, displayed enough of that fine european handling that it only solidified my position that I wanted to own the ultimate German sports car.

My first job out of college was at Eastman Kodak Company.   Though I thoroughly enjoyed my years there, it was at a time where the world no longer needed film and paper to capture a photo.  Given this interesting time, the guarantee of lifetime employment no longer existed, and it only seemed prudent to set aside some money in the event that my relationship with my employer was cut short due to corporate cost cutting efforts.  Fortunately this never occurred, however, I did decide to part ways with Kodak and move to a company with a brighter future.  Shortly after changing jobs, my buddy told me about a very reasonably priced seven year old Porsche Boxster that he had seen on a car lot.  No longer in fear of losing my source of income, I traded my layoff fund for that Porsche Boxster.   Though it still wasn’t the 911 Carrera that I had set my sights on in the mid seventies, it scratched nearly all of the itches, and was an extremely fun vehicle to drive.   If you’ve never driven a Porsche with a flat 6 engine, and experienced the spectacular howl it lets out as the tachometer approaches the redline, you probably would not understand the sheer joy it brings.

I drove that car for the next 5 years, making some modifications to personalize it to my liking, and then a miracle occurred (at least that is how I interpreted it).  Through a series of conversations, I learned of a friend of my brother that was looking for a sports car…and boy, did I have a deal for him.  With a guaranteed sale in hand, I started to scour the classifieds for an affordable used 911.   It did not take too long until I located a very reasonably priced 5 year old 911 Carrera sitting on the showroom floor of a Nissan dealer in Wichita Kansas.  When I shared the news with my dad, something terrible happened, that disapproving tone that I had experienced many times before, was there.  “Why do you need to buy a different car?” he asked.   “Your Boxster is perfect and plenty fast”.   My dad’s hesitation was likely warranted, due to the damage I had once before caused to a high powered sports car in a moment of poor judgement and zealous acceleration.  But, as I had many times before, I filed his caution in the undue parental worrying bucket, and in March 2011, I jumped onto an airplane with my 16 year old son, flew to Kansas, and drove my new-to-me sports car home.   Before I even got to my house, I stopped at my dad’s to show him my dream car.   He looked it over carefully and showed some cautious enthusiasm, but I could tell, he still had not warmed up to the idea.

A couple weeks later, my son and I drove over to visit my dad.  As we were talking, my son said “Grandpa, you should drive Dad’s new car”.  My dad’s health was not the best, but he agreed, and we made our way out to the 911.  My dad took the driver’s seat, I jumped in the passenger seat, and my dad handed me his oxygen tank to hang on to…yes, you just read that correctly 🙂  We made our way out of the village, and turned on to a 55 MPH stretch of road that passed through miles and miles of farmland.   As he rowed through the gears, he gave it a heavy dose of throttle, and soon we were approaching twice the posted speed limit as we made our way through the countryside.   I can only assume that if observing the speed limit is lawful, observing it a second time is twice as lawful.    We got to a good turn around point and he broke the rear end of the car free as he once again put the car through its paces.   He looked at me with a great big smile and said “man, this power is addicting”.   It was at that very moment I knew, my dad approved of my latest car purchase. 

You see, a car is far more than mere transportation.  This is something my Grandpa was keenly aware of, my dad was aware of, and I am aware of.   A car is the gateway to adventure, a source of freedom to explore, a generator of smiles, and a moving memory maker.  Some of my best memories are of times riding in a car with friends and family experiencing life on the open road.   

During these days of quarantine, a lot of our normal activities and hobbies are off limits  But, you can still take a ride.   So consider packing up the kids, throw some snacks in a backpack, jump in your transportation vehicle of choice, head out onto the road and turn, in any direction, and just drive and see where it takes you.  You may just realize that your transportation vehicle wants to be far more than transportation, and just wants to “carry you away with a strong and intensely pleasant emotion”.

Dedicated to my Dad…
8/22/1941 – 4/24/2011